, Sterling Publishing
America as the Audience
The New Age audience is much broader than it used to be, observes Sterling president and CEO Charles Nurnberg. "In the old days, New Age had a very narrow, specific focus and today it's more about lifestyles and choices in how you are going to act in your life, rather than as a passion for an individual subject. Our audience is America, with different books appealing to different parts of the population."
And the biggest challenge in the category, in Nurnberg's words, is "to continuously find the cracks in the subject areas that haven't been covered. It serves no purpose to do more books on the same subject as everybody else. Four hundred crystal books are not going to make anything better for anybody. Finding a new subject or an old subject that you can do in a better way and doing it at a price point and a value with content better than anybody else—that's the challenge."
A January 2005 title is of particular interest to Nurnberg: "We have essentially one book that I would call new and unusual, and that's The Cosmo Kama Sutra. It's not the Kama Sutra that everybody knows about, it's the Cosmopolitan magazine style of Kama Sutra." The book developed, he explains, from a monthly column in the magazine with the same name, which sparked the publisher's interest. "We thought it was a different approach to the old subject, 'a real women on sex-life approach' that's pretty unique."
Nurnberg also believes Sterling has successfully responded to the challenges presented by today's younger generation, with its shorter attention span and reliance on graphics. "Our books are much more visual. Most of them are in color and have lots of illustrations. Also, you don't want to publish a 300-page book because nobody will read it."
Backlist plays a critical role at Sterling, Nurnberg says—and not only in New Age. "Ninety-seven per cent of our books we print multiple times. I price each book according to what I believe the consumer will buy, not what the accountants would like it to be, and then we make it work." Asked how they make it work, Nurnberg replies, "Reprint, reprint and reprint." —Hilary S. Kayle
Serving the Seekers
According to Shaye Areheart, publisher of Harmony Books and Shaye Areheart Books, "Readers of this category of book—that we who publish them hesitantly call New Age, for want of a better, more up-to-date term—are seekers. They are unafraid to try new ways of thinking about the world and themselves, unafraid to try alternative methods—from new ways of getting and staying healthy to overcoming sleep disorders, and from using positive energy to expand the quality of a life, to asking four questions that promise to turn that life around. Our single greatest challenge as publishers is to find the authentic voices, the great thinkers, the true leaders."
Areheart says that what Harmony itself is seeking in the future is product with staying power. In a time, she says, when New Age sections are both ambiguous and flooded, the need for titles that stick is her foremost concern. Audiences today are much more discerning.
The first book Harmony ever published, Areheart tells PW, was Be Here Now by Ram Dass. "Almost 34 years later," she says, "it is still in print and still selling briskly, because Ram Dass lives what he teaches. He does not disappoint; his words and example have as much significance today as they did when this seminal book was first published." Due in October, she adds, is Ram Dass's next book, Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita—"a lively, accessible guide to the teachings of the classic Hindu text."
Areheart adds, "We are currently enjoying great success with Judith Orloff's Positive Energy, which contains 10 extraordinary prescriptions for transforming fatigue, stress and fear into vibrance, strength and love." This fall Harmony is publishing Deepak Chopra's The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life, which Areheart describes as "a crystalline distillation of insights and wisdoms accumulated over the lifetime of one of the greatest spiritual thinkers of our time. Another fall title, Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime, is the fourth and final title, Areheart reports, in Roger Housden's "powerful and hugely successful Ten Poems series.
"We have always made it our goal," she says, "to publish that which is thought-provoking, intelligent and infinitely expansive—timely and yet timeless. Bringing the most illuminating ideas and the most authentic authors to the attention of a questing audience is and has always been our intention." —Michael Archer
, Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
Da Vinci Code Redux
"The challenge for us always is to remain upstream and not mainstream," quips Inner Traditions/Bear & Company president and publisher Ehud Sperling. "Our job as an independent publisher is to publish books that are on people's minds, which will eventually lead to what is called the mainstream trend." A prime example, he says, relates to The Da Vinci Code phenomenon. In his novel, Dan Brown references two books that Sperling published 10 years ago—one of which, The Woman with the AlabasterJar, has sold 100,000 copies in the last seven months. "What makes The Da Vinci Code exciting," according to Sperling, "isn't the character development or even the setting, it's the whole mystery and magic around a reinterpretation of the Christian mythos. There's a real thirst and a hunger in our society today for a different story around Christianity."
Inner Traditions continues to explore Christian teaching this season, an area they've been covering for more than 30 years. Says Sperling, "We have new books like The Gospel of John in the Light of Indian Mysticism and The Gospel of Philip. You have these apocryphal gospels which, in the light of the history of the organization of the Christian church, you have be open to. That Alexandrian library was set on fire, wasn't it? So these manuscripts were luckily stashed away in a cave, and here they are, so why not look at them with an open eye?"
Another topic in which there is a resurgence of interest is the Knights Templars. "Why do the Templars keep re-emerging in the imagination of Western man?" ponders Sperling. "Again, with The Da Vinci Code, the Templars are in that, so a new generation is reading about them. We published our first book on the Templars in the '70s. Now there's this wonderful new material and new research that has come out in that area (The Templars and the Ark of the Covenant and The Lost Colony of the Templars) and it's wonderful to reinterpret history."
Sperling concludes, "At a certain level, history is really 'his story'—whoever happens to be telling it. This thirst for material that re-envisions historical trends and puts a mystical, spiritual spin on them is extremely appealing in our age, where people are free to search for their spirituality in other directions. We are here to meet that challenge." —Hilary S. Kayle
Astrology—A Growing Niche
New Age books, which at one time were considered by some to be a bit outré, have changed and developed over time, says Steve Fischer, v-p of ThorsonsElement U.S. "For us there has been a maturing of our customers, and by that I don't mean just getting older. People are becoming more specialized. Consumers tell us that they've already done the introductory stuff. They want advanced books. That's a challenge for publishers: to figure out what subjects people want to know more about."
One of the trends that has emerged in the last few years, says Fischer, is alternative history. "Those are books about secret societies, freemasons, alternate religions. Out of that you get books on Mary Magdalene, books that connect traditional religion with the pagan goddess. And it's not just weird stuff. You get Elaine Pagels, and you get The Da Vinci Code. What you learned in Sunday school is not wrong. It's just not the whole story. One of our books in that category, Lost Secrets of the Sacred Ark by Laurence Gardner, has sold thousands and thousands of copies. Next spring we're doing his book on Mary Magdalene. One thing I've figured out is that it's not a big leap for a lot of the self-help movement to go into religion and spirituality. People are trying to find new answers as they search for something bigger than themselves."
According to Fischer, astrology is "the workhorse" of the category—and those sales are growing. Especially impressive, he notes, have been the sales of a spring 2004 title, The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells by Judika Illes, which weighs in at 1,100-pages, priced at $27.50. "In the middle of August we had 6,000 back orders waiting to be filled; later this month we'll have 25,000 copies in print. Who'd have imagined that the New Age market could support 25,000 of a book at that price?"
Despite success stories like this, bookstores continue to be suspicious of New Age titles, Fischer reports. "It's not an easy category to buy if you're not educated in it. We've also seen that specialty stores who used to stock 60% books and 40% sidelines have now reversed those figures." He cites a decrease of interest in eastern religions and an uptick in books on earth-based religions, animal communication and psychic healing. "It's up to publishers to work with their accounts to figure out what's still needed," he remarks. "There's always the new in an old category." —Robert Dahlin
, Citadel Press
Narrowing Their Focus
"The biggest single challenge facing New Age publishers is the competitive environment," says Gene Brissie, Citadel Press's new editor-in-chief. "Remember that, historically, the modern era of New Age publishing began in the mid to late '70s and has continued strongly ever since. In the intervening years, everybody came out of the woodwork and the area got loaded up. Now the category as a whole has lost vibrancy—something that happens when any publishing sector matures."
Citadel, Brissie tells PW, specializes in Wicca—what he calls "our little corner" of the New Age market. "We have had big successes with Wicca titles, and we find the market is still growing." He contrasts the expanding horizon for this subgenre with a shrinkage of growth within New Age generally at Citadel. That's why, he adds, Citadel has chosen to concentrate almost exclusively on Wicca titles. Popular entertainment has contributed to the Wicca mystique, Brissie believes. "Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer have drawn on the interest and have also fed it, especially among teens and preteens. Some of our entry-level Wicca titles have a YA look."
Citing Raymond Buckland, Isaac Bonewits, Trish Telesco and Sirona Knight as stellar performers for the house, he explains, "Our strategy is to be more selective and to become more brand-name conscious. Our sales figures prove that Wicca customers run the gamut from true believers to neophytes." Even so, he believes commonality exists between veterans and newcomers to Wiccan books. "They are all looking for new life paths and answers," Brissie gauges. "We've all heard the expression: 'I'm spiritual, but not religious.' In another era, people attracted to Wicca might have gravitated toward a more traditional religion. In the early days of the Reformation, for instance, the new Protestants would pick and choose from a variety of emerging beliefs. To a degree, Wiccans today also pick and choose. Wicca is nonhierarchical. There is no Pope of Wicca. Wiccans are free to mix and match beliefs. It's a community that shares its beliefs through books."
Citadel's top New Age selection for fall is Sabbat Entertaining: Celebrating The Wiccan Holidays With Style by Willow Polson. With a chuckle, Brissie says, "Informally, we think of it as pagan Martha Stewart. It's a classic case of crossover marketing. It's for Wicca readers and also for readers who want to learn about entertaining." The text, he explains, emphasizes the pagan origins of many contemporary holidays while adding heaps of recipes and crafts into the mix.—Charles Hix
, New World Library
Need a New Moniker
At New World Library, states associate publisher and marketing director Munro Magruder, "We try not to use the New Age moniker. I think of us as a spirituality/personal growth publisher. To me, New Age denotes pretty mainstream publishing—astrology, Wicca, paganism, meditations." His objection is not merely elitist. "Our preference is to not have a New Age category, because it's confusing. Celtic studies, spirituality, personal growth—these are much clearer delineations within the customer's mind." Perhaps the single greatest challenge, he adds, "is to make your list/titles stand out in an environment where far too many new titles are being published every year. This, coupled with the enormous competition for our free time from other media, has given the consumer an overwhelming number of choices."
Magruder specifies several tactics for flourishing in an overcrowded field. "We attempt to identify growing areas of our market (no easy task) and to publish aggressively into them as we begin to achieve success." A case in point is the animal spirituality/communication niche. "It is definitely our most important emerging sector. Historically, it represented maybe 1 percent of our sales since we installed computers in the 1990s. This year, it will be 5%—6%. Three years from now, I'm hoping it will be 10%. We are acquiring into that category." In November, New World Library will publish Susan Chernak McElroy's All My Relations: Living with Animals as Teachers and Healers with a 20,000 first printing.
Other strategies include publishing books to market in channels outside the traditional book trade (e.g, equestrian, spa and health food outlets); and to spin off ancillary products (audio CDs, card decks) from its most successful books.
Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain is New World Library's all-time bestseller, Magruder notes. " It first appeared in mimeographed form in 1977; in 1978, it became a real book and helped launch a new movement in the personal growth field." Deepak Chopra's Creating Affluence, out in 1993, has been another enormous seller.
Magruder calls the house's backlist its backbone. In September, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle reappears in a new trade paper format. "The time was right to crank the franchise up to a new level," Magruder declares, noting that the title has already sold 2 million copies. "We sold 200,000 copies in hardcover last year, which is pretty good. Our goal is to get it on all the bestseller lists again." —Charles Hix
, Hampton Roads
Facing Increased Competition
New age publishers face the same problems as all publishers, says Bob Friedman, president of Hampton Roads Publishing Company in Charlottesville, Va. One of the most difficult, he says, is the increased competition from bigger houses, who have developed a greater interest in New Age books and are doing more such titles. "They have the checkbooks to take the better-selling writers away from the smaller houses," Friedman says, drawing an analogy between smaller publishers and farm clubs. "Small houses are the ones who recognize the potential of unknown authors, who take the risk to publish them, and who stay with them long enough for them to get established. Once the authors have name recognition and a track record, the larger houses take them away with bigger advance checks. There really is no such thing as loyalty any longer."
Given the fact that most published books either lose money or don't make enough to contribute much to profit ratios, Friedman says, it is important that smaller houses, New Age or not, have a few authors who sell in larger quantities. A good example at Hampton Roads is Messiah's Handbook (Sept.), Richard Bach's sequel to the phenomenal '70s seller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which Friedman says he is fortunate to be publishing. "We are able to compete, sometimes, for better known authors because in some ways we're like the independents. We offer personal attention, better service and often a closer relationship with editors. We offer more involvement in several of the publishing aspects—many authors like to be involved in things like cover designs, working with publicity staffs, etc. We can also get the books out sooner, occasionally in three or four months rather than a year or more. We can often give a better royalty percentage even though we can't compete on advances, so the authors wind up making more in the long run."
When agents are involved, he notes, it's difficult to overcome the up-front enticements. Another serious problem, according to Friedman, involves getting books into the chains. Not only are chains doing more publishing themselves, but there are far too many books being published for a shrinking market of consumers, and returns have been growing, so the chains have been buying fewer titles and in fewer quantities. "The shrinking independent market doesn't help either, because they traditionally are the ones who hand-sell books and can give boosts to unknown authors." —Suzanne Mantell
, Celestial Arts and Crossing Press
Coping with World Events
Joann Deck, publisher at Ten Speed imprints Celestial Arts and Crossing Press, offers a ready—and provocative—answer to PW's query: "The biggest challenge is dealing with the incredible distraction of world events. To break through that distraction I have to sharpen the acquisitions and the projects that go out so that they all find their right customers."
Deck observes that some of the projects she might have done 10 years ago would not work in the current marketplace. "There always have been and always will be a lot of challenges in the book business, whatever area you're in," she explains. "At the same time there is another issue: some of the book buyers think New Age titles don't sell or that there's been a slowdown in the marketplace. My challenge is convincing them that there's a place for these titles on the shelf.
"We're all looking for that piece of knowledge that just has to be out there," she continues. "I think what I need to do is show that these ideas [in the books] are not yet mainstream." She observes, for example, how angel books went from the niche to the big publishers within the last 20 years.
One of the biggest shifts, according to Deck, is that readers, distracted by world events and other matters, want titles that are focused on immediate remedies rather than some abstract need. This change, she says, is reflected in the lists from Celestial Arts and Crossing Press. "Ten years ago," says Deck, "we could publish on how to be healthy all the time. Now, when people get sick they need immediate information." This is also true, she notes, of emotional and spiritual health.
One example of the kind of book that Deck hopes meets these immediate needs is an October Crossing Press release, Advanced Chakra Healing: A Revolutionary Approach to Healing Through the Four Pathways by Cyndi Dale, an advanced manual in applying Chakra philosophy in diagnosing and healing physical problems. Coming in January from Celestial Arts is Walking Through Walls: Practical Spirituality in an Impractical World by Lee J. Jampolsky, author of Healing the Addictive Mind.
"People are less interested in the long- term philosophy and more interested in solving a current problem," says Deck. "They want the quick fix." —Bridget Kinsella
, Free Press
Seeking the Grace of Insight
With positive energies drowned out by so much negativity in the world today, it's not so easy to gain a foothold for psychologically and spiritually uplifting titles, says Free Press senior editor Leslie Meredith "It's hard to break through that overwhelming noise from everything else that's going on in people's lives and in the world," she says. "It's hard to break through that often very grim screed with images that are hopeful about the potential to change your life. We're often met with skepticism because of all the attention given to the war and the economy. People find it difficult to see how they can make life better."
To make that point, Free Press arms itself with authors who write clearly with a mindset that's open for change. "Our authors give readers solid ways of using their everyday mindfulness. Both Caroline Myss [Invisible Acts of Power: Personal Choices That Create Miracles, Sept.] and Robert Thurman [The Jewel Tree of Tibet: The Enlightenment Engine of Tibetan Buddhism, Feb.] are very good at bringing in some rays of inspiration that people can follow to a better place. Bob's image of the jewel tree helps you focus your mind. It's populated by Buddha, Jesus, Mary—anyone you depend on as a guide—and it helps you move toward enlightenment and happiness in your daily life."
Meredith concedes that it is difficult to reach out into the marketplace without authors who have established themselves. "For authors just starting out, it's hard to promote them because the media is particularly focused on the bad stuff today," she explains. "Also, Free Press concentrates on hardcovers, and many writers of spiritual and motivational nonfiction have to go up the ladder through trade paperback first. It's also harder for new authors because there are fewer independent stores devoted to this kind of nonfiction, stores that in other times would have had authors in locally. I'm not sure what it's like today, but earlier this year, some authors even found a little bit of softening in the number of people coming to their workshops."
Even so, says Meredith, "Because things are so bad, many people are looking for the grace of a hopeful idea, the grace of insight. The Unmistakable Touch of Grace [Feb.] is Cheryl Richardson's most spiritual book so far. It's interesting to see that she needed to go in that direction for her readers." —Robert Dahlin
, Red Wheel/Weiser Conari
Reaching a New Market
Michael Kerber, president of Red Wheel/Weiser Conari, may describe it as "a tough environment out there saleswise," but so far he's been successful at negotiating the shoals. The press, which was named one of PW's small publisher standouts for 2003, is in the midst of a continuing growth spurt.
Earlier this summer the company acquired Belle Tress Books, which publishes visionary books for children and adults, and Phanes Press, which does more scholarly, but topical, titles such as The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance by Joscelyn Godwin, translator of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the 1499 work featured in The Rule of Four. RW/WC plans to rush out a paperback edition in the spring. "A lot of smaller companies are finding it too much of a struggle and aligning themselves with a larger publisher. That's how we acquired Belle Tress and Phanes; those are both sole proprietors," Kerber reports. At the same time, RW/WC is casting its net in search of new distribution clients and added Momentum Press.
"On the retail side, the biggest challenge is maintaining the market," Kerber says. "A lot of independent stores and specialty stores are really the ones that are suffering. Some of the New Age stores are changing themselves into community stores, offering classes, workshops and seminars. One of the things we're doing is putting more authors on the road." RW/WC is also signing authors who are already established travelers, such as Guy Finley, who averages 150 seminars a year. In October, Finley will publish his first book under the Red Wheel imprint, Let Go and Live in the Now: Awaken the Peace, Power, and Happiness in Your Heart.
The struggle for the bookstore shelf space continues, in part, says Kerber, "because too many books are being published. Wicca has been the victim of overpublishing. It's kind of what happened with Zen books a dozen years ago." While RW/WC has contracted its list—"we really should be doing over 80 books a year and we cut that back to 62"—it has expanded by extending its reach beyond the traditional New Age market. In addition, RW/ WC is freshening its Weiser line to attract a younger, hipper audience. Next month, for example, it will publish Voltaire's What is Goth?, which has been a favorite at Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic.
In the meantime, says Kerber, "we hope to be in a position to do another acquisition next year." —Judith Rosen
, Llewellyn Worldwide
Understanding the Customer
One of the major challenges facing publishers in the New Age category, according to Carl Weschcke, president and publisher of Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., is something akin to knowing the universe in which they live.
"There is a need to clarify what this category really is if we are to understand who the customer really is," he tells PW. "The answer is no longer as simple as it was five years ago when everything once called 'occult'—as well as paranormal, non-traditional spirituality, astrology, tarot, Eastern, Native American, Celtic, shamanic, and a few other subject areas—was moved under this simple umbrella phrase.
"Simply speaking, the New Age customer is looking for 'technologies' that implement the growth and development of his or her Consciousness, or Spirit, Soul, even Mind and Body when seen holistically."
According to Weschcke, "Understanding the customer is obviously the greatest challenge facing any business. Accepting the constant change in perception is equally important. Even as fashions return with a new look, so must all of a bookseller's categories be freshened and seen anew from the perspective of the next generation customer.
For a publisher, he continues, "that means adapting to the new technologies as well. We have to be diverse as well as inclusive. Paper and the printed page is no longer the only medium of communication, and publishing is first and foremost a process of communicating knowledge and facilitating the process of personal understanding and application of knowledge. The market covers the entire population, and we publish for the Hispanic market as well as English, and for youth as well as the mature. We see our market broadly, without limitations."
In addition to the traditional book, he continues, Llewellyn publishes in audio and electronic formats, and "we are researching ways to transport our product via the Internet. There is the need to explore and work with non-traditional channels of distribution and marketing."
"And, for any business, diversification is as important as diversity. So we are publishing fiction as well as nonfiction, producing card products as well as books (printed or otherwise), and exploring other product formats as well as alternative sidelines. The customer has many needs and interests that the publisher can fulfill." —Michael Archer